Saturday, January 7, 2012

Journalist Dahr Jamail Reports from Baghdad on Political Chaos: Sectarian violence aimed at leaders is killing civilians instead

Talk Nation Radio for January 7, 2011
Journalist Dahr Jamail Reports from Baghdad on Political Chaos: Sectarian violence aimed at leaders is killing civilians instead

'The Americans are gone and now we are in total political turmoil, and that's the reality in Iraq today'.

'Clearly killings and bombings that are targeting the Shiite population. Just like what we've seen in the past these are attacks carried out to incite sectarian warfare'.

'Iraqis are very afraid today of a return to 2006, 2007, that horrific sectarian bloodshed period where we saw tens of thousands of Iraqis killed, literally just open sectarian war'.
Dahr Jamail, in Baghdad, 1-6-12

Dahr Jamail provides a detailed analysis of the new violence that has left at hundreds of civilian Iraqis dead and wounded. We hear about fall out from what Nouri al-Maliki has done in charging his Sunni Vice President, Tareq al-Hashimi, with terrorism. Plus sectarian divisions and Fallujah birth defects soaring at 14% according a physician keeping records.

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Investigative journalist Dahr Jamail joins us from Baghdad where new violence that has left at 100’s of civilian Shiite’s dead and wounded. Dahr Jamail is Bagdad correspondent for Al Jazeera and author of Beyond the Green Zone, Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, and The Will to Resist, Soldiers who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been covering Iraq off and on since 2003 and has won many awards for his hard hitting reports that reveal the human cost of the U.S. war and occupation. You can find his work at Al Jazeera English and Inter Press Service, Truthout, The Nation, The Sunday Herald in Scotland, the Guardian, Foreign Policy in Focus, Le Monde Diplomatique, and the Independent, as well as other publications or go to his web site,

Transcript for Talk Nation Radio for January 7, 2012.
Journalist Dahr Jamail Reports from Baghdad on Political Chaos
Interviewed January 6, 2012 by Dori Smith

Investigative journalist Dahr Jamail joins us from Iraq to assess the political implications of new violence there that has left at 100’s of civilian Shiite’s dead and wounded. Dahr Jamail is Bagdad correspondent for Al Jazeera.

Dori Smith: Dahr Jamail welcome again to Talk Nation Radio.
Dahr Jamail: Thanks Dori its good to be with you.

Intro: Award winning investigative journalist Dahr Jamail is author of 'Beyond the Green Zone', and 'The Will to Resist'. He has been covering Iraq off and on 2003 and we reached him in Baghdad where he is Al Jazeera’s Correspondent there. You can find his work at Al Jazeera English and Inter Press Service, TruthOut, The Nation, The Sunday Herald in Scotland, the Guardian, Foreign Policy in Focus, Le Monde Diplomatique, and the Independent, as well as other publications or go to his web site,

DS: It seems you are clearly moving around in Baghdad and not staying inside the fortified Green Zone. Just talk about what you have been seeing and the implications of this sectarian violence and civil war that you’ve been talking about in your reports to Al Jazeera.

DJ: Well that really is the big story. I came I here on this trip on December 26th and we knew that things were going south in a very fast way because when the US ended their formal military presence, less than one day after they withdrew the last of the troops that aren’t going to be remaining at the embassy, less than 24 hours after that Vice President Nouri al-Maliki issued an arrest warrant for Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi, a Sunni under charges of terrorism. Maliki’s critics said this is basically a move to consolidate political power, you are trying to basically just collapse this very tenuous kind of fragile power sharing government that we’ve had said up, that the Americans have taken great pains to set up, and Maliki’s move against his vice president was also followed by his placing the Deputy Prime Minister, Saleh el-Mutlaq, also a Sunni, placing him on indefinite leave. So clearly this caused the Sunni block in the Parliament the Iraqiya block to boycott parliament, and that has basically frozen the government. So we have a situation where Maliki is head of a minority government that can’t do anything. There is no resolution happening to the political crisis. Meanwhile that leaves the door wide open for mayhem on the ground and that’s exactly what we’re seeing.

During the last week of December we had the first massive wave of suicide attacks and bombings across the country that killed over 70 people. And then yesterday we had an even bigger wave of IED’s, suicide attacks, and motorcycle bombs. All across the country, primarily Baghdad and south of Baghdad, targeting Shiite pilgrims, with 84 dead, and the total from yesterday I think it was 173 wounded. And then today we’ve had, not nearly as bloody, but we’ve have had a continuance of attacks. Two more IEDs, a barrage of mortars that fell across the city, one striking the Green Zone, a couple landing not far from our bureau here, two Shiite pilgrims killed and at least 17 wounded today. So the thing is these are clearly killings and bombings that are targeting the Shiite population just like what we have seen in the past, these are attacks that are carried out to try to incite sectarian warfare. One of Al Qaeda’s agenda’s in Iraq is to sew mayhem amongst the population and that is exactly what would happen. So Iraqis are very afraid today of a return to 2006, 2007, that horrific sectarian bloodshed period where we saw tens of thousands of Iraqis killed and literally just open sectarian war, and that’s what everyone is very concerned about now and does not want to happen. But they are of course extremely angry at the government because the government can’t and won’t get anything done to try to find resolution, find power sharing, create some kind of a unity government to prevent that from happening.

DS: And so the political leaders fighting, it seems as if the civilians there that you have been speaking to are clearly saying that we’re paying the price for this disagreement that is political. You could say I guess at this point we are looking at political civil war right?

DJ: Oh yeah. It’s open warfare in the political realm for sure. Maliki has pulled out all of the stops, he is going big, he is not pulling any punches, and he is openly moving to try to consolidate power. The Sunnis are basically in reactive mode trying to do damage control, figure out how they can try to turn this against Maliki. There is all kinds of political horse trading going on but at the end of the day Maliki is making a power move.

Today for example, he held the biggest military parade that Iraq has had since 2003 when Saddam had one just prior to the invasion to try to have a show of strength. Well Maliki had one today and interestingly enough it took place inside the Green Zone and the timing of the mortar attacks was timed to coincide with the parade. And so an AFP photographer who was in photographing the parade could hear the explosions echoing across the parade ground as Iraq’s military was being paraded in front of the Prime Minister. So the attack clearly meant to show, look you can have your little military parade but it still can’t keep you safe even inside the Green Zone, even with your entire military right there at your disposal we can still hit you. And that’s what this shows. So if the intent of having the parade was a show of force if anything it has backfired and showed people look, there is no security because you can’t even keep a military parade secure in front of the Prime Minister. So nevertheless Maliki is doing these things, he is kind of thumping his chest, showing who has control militarily to his political rivals, and really making no political concessions at least not at this point.

DJ: And now true is that Dahr that he has complete control over the military and any intelligence agencies there?

DJ: He definitely has control of the military. It’s a rag tag third rate military at best but he definitely has control over it and it is a big force. So at least as far as anything that goes on on the ground in Iraq, whether its putting down an insurgency here and there or a particular militia, he definitely has the power to do that, there is no question about that. He does have his own private security, he does have his own private intelligence services. He is forming his own private militia, you know he doesn’t call it a militia of course but that’s what it is. So there are things he is doing also on that front to consolidate power. But the government as a whole is in total gridlock. It’s not accomplishing anything right now. And as we have talked about before Dori so much hasn’t changed. I mean this is a government that can’t even get the garbage collected in the capital city and it goes downhill from there. Basic services are still basically crap.

The average home in Baghdad has maybe six hours of electricity per day. I don’t even know if that’s changed since the last time we talked so long ago. Shockingly enough, still about one out of every two Iraqis lacks access to safe, potable, clean drinking water. The medical system is so bad now that people don’t take their loved ones to the hospital unless its an absolute worst case emergency. They try to save up money and take them to a private hospital instead because the public ones have just gone completely downhill after all of the doctors fled and the infrastructure has just had no attendance. And of course all of this against the backdrop of unemployment where rates vary depending on who you get the statistics from and what month it is but unemployment rates vary from between 25% and 45%. So somewhere between great depression level in the U.S. and almost double that.

DS: And what about others that you mention in your reporting like the Sunni led Iraqiya or [hard line Shiite bloc cleric] Moqtada al-Sadr, who is still in this, as well as the rival political group Asab al-Haq? Do they have political strength or support within the Iraqi population?

DJ: Al-Sadr is in an interesting position because he is now put on his political hat again and is again positioning himself as like peace maker between all of the chaos keeping in mind that Sadr has always hated Maliki, because remember it was just a few years ago that Maliki declared open war on Sadr’s militia and with the help of the American’s put it down relatively easily. Sadr only came into the government basically because Iran told him to, to be friends with Maliki at least for now until they can get the Americans out and then take total control of the country which is basically what’s happening. So Sadr is a key player. I don’t think he has enough consensus backing overall in the government to be a big enough power player there but he does have enough of a power block and a big enough following on the street that he can throw his weight around and shift the situation to go in one direction or another. And that’s what we have to watch now. Once again he shows up at the key moment when things are super tenuous and starts throwing his weight around and he can definitely change the direction that things are going to go in politically here. You know Maliki of course and his Rule of Law party being the key power, primarily because they continue to be supported by the U.S. even after his arrest warrant against Tareq al-Hashimi, he’s had the green light from the U.S. on that interestingly enough. And he continues to be backed by Iran as well. Its very interesting.

One joke in Iraq is that you have the U.S. that Iran calls 'the great Satan' and then you have Iran that the U.S. calls the 'axis of evil'. So the great Satan and the axis of evil get together and they guy they can decide on to agree for both of their best interests to lead Iraq is Nouri al-Maliki. So he is the child of 'the great Satan' and the 'axis of evil'. And that’s pretty accurate if you look at the guy and you look at how he has been behaving and what he is doing even right now, the moniker fits.

So those are really some of the key players. Of course we have to keep in mind Iski, [the Islamic Council of Iraq] and [Ammar] Aziz al-Hakim, and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, are all key players of course, and then the splinter group, the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haaq (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haaq or AAH) that use to be part of the Mahdi army and then they split off and now they’ve shown up putting on their political hats and are trying to make themselves look legitimate even though they are of course despised by the Americans and of course now being welcomed by Maliki. A lot of people are now perceiving that as an attempt to split the Sadrists to weaken Sadr from throwing his weight around which of course Maliki sees as a threat so he has welcomed in Sadr’s enemy. Those are some of the key players and again, now you can talk about throwing the Kurds into the mix which are of course other key big players as well and again trying to find consensus among all of those groups especially in this backdrop as things stand on the ground today that’s what we are looking at.

DS: And Dahr let’s throw oil into the mix and those all-important contracts. Are there any corporate powers that could have influence as Nouri al-Maliki makes power-sharing decisions?

DJ: I actually have an article on this scheduled for Sunday January 8, 2011, which is basically an update on what is happening with Iraq’s oil. And it’s a bit of a mixed bag. (See 1-9-12 article here) It’s not as cut and dry as OK we had the invasion, all of these western oil companies came in and set up shop and now they are just going to make out like bandits even though the U.S. Military has left. I think that’s what they wanted but that is not how it is played out. Part of that is because of the security situation that there is just no way for these guys to do their work the way they want to do it with ongoing attacks, with the threat of kidnapping, with sabotage, coupled with popular resistance on the ground from the Basra oil union workers. Then there is the overall population of course that does not want to see the oil privatized, certainly not into western hands. So those factors have been big at play working against this oil grab of the west.

That said, Exxon Mobile, BP, and Shell, remain in Iraq, they all have big contracts, they all are operating as we speak. Those are just the main companies and there are others as well but certainly, Iraqi oil is being accessed by these oil companies and they are taking it and selling it abroad and Iraq remains I believe they are the sixth largest oil provider to the U.S. So that’s where some of it is going and the rest of it is still being sold around the world as it was, in the same locations it was, prior to the invasion. So the key is there has been a big push to get in, change Iraq’s laws so that western oil companies can access, legally by Iraq standards, Iraq’s oil. And they have been pushing for these different contracts, and we’ve talked about the production sharing agreements, and all of this has basically ripped off the host country. Well those haven’t come to pass because basically what happened is the oil companies went in flying their greed flag and the Iraqis just wouldn’t have any of it. So concessions have been made, renegotiated, more concessions made, and now we are at a situation where there have been some deals cut but they are definitely not the best deals that these companies are use to getting. But certainly we still have at least four to five of the major key oil companies that are operating in Iraq.

I also would caution anyone from thinking this is a permanent situation because you look for example right now at how volatile the situation is here politically and on the ground and do you think any company is going to come in and think they are going to be able to set up shop long term in a country like this? Who knows what its going to look like in a month from now. So I think anyone who thinks oh yeah those companies are just always going to be here, I mean they could be thrown out tomorrow for all we know, that’s how unstable this place is. We’ll just have to keep our eye on that.

DS: And what about security now that you have brought that up? Are you seeing a lot of contractors there now to protect oil company personnel and or embassy staff?

DJ: You know with private contractors from the west, you are not seeing them on the streets at all anymore. I’ve been out on the streets a whole lot. I’ve been out to Fallujah, I’ve been all around Baghdad, and I have not seen any westerners out at all, no contractors whatsoever, and they literally are just sitting inside that embassy and not coming out. They are there, basically just to be there to guard that. I haven’t gone down to check any of the oil infrastructure down to the south, possibly they might be used for something like that but I kind of doubt it. Right now from what I can see is they are sitting inside the fortified Green Zone inside the embassy specifically, which you have to go through still to this day, it’s the same as when I was in here three years ago, which was seven check points just to get through into the Green Zone and that’s assuming that you have proper ID and the passes you need and all of this. So they are sitting in there and they are not coming out and I think just collecting big fat paychecks and escorting people around there and escorting people to and from the airport. So them and the military, they are just trying to keep a very low profile at this point and stay off of the streets.

DS: And you also mention in this report to Al Jazeera recently that Hashami is now living in the Kurdish North? So how doe that affect this sectarian divide?

DJ: That is an interesting twist to the situation, right. So when Maliki issued this arrest warrant Hashami went to Kurdistan because he knew and I think rightly so that he would not get a fair trial under Maliki’s justice system because Maliki controls the courts and everyone here knows it. So Maliki made the order and the court issued the warrant, its out there, and so Hashami, either he is going to go through the kangaroo court and end up in one of Maliki’s dungeons or executed on charges of terrorism or assassination attempts and running death squads, are the charges, or he goes up to Kurdistan and now he is staying in Talibani’s house up in Kurdistan because the Kurdish region is basically a very semi autonomous region and that Baghdad doesn’t really have authority there, they can’t, and there is another big squabble brewing between Kirkuk and the oil fields there and do the Kurds get it or how much control Baghdad has over it, but that’s a whole, another story, probably a whole separate discussion. But Hashami staying up there in Talibani’s house is interesting because it puts the Kurds obviously in a position of playing mediator, the Kurds saying look we’re not going to hand this guy over, we want him to have a fair trial too, wherever that might be. So he is sitting up there. Of course the Maliki government has gone so far as to accuse Talibani at one point of being a terrorist or housing a terrorist and then of course all hell was raised politically about that by the Kurds and so Maliki’s group withdrew that statement to calm things down a bit. But that’s how the situation has been playing out. It’s really quite the mess.

There is supposed to be a meeting at some point at Talibani’s house here in Baghdad to bring all of the groups together to talk about the situation and try to find resolution. However, Maliki has already said, well yeah we agree to have this meeting but only on the condition that we don’t talk about Hashami. So what’s the point? So there is that obstacle coupled with numerous other obstacles like Sadr has already said, look, if the Ahl al-Haaq group shows up, our rival group shows up, we won’t show up. There is that issue. There is the issue of well Hashami can’t be there because he is up in Kurdistan, I mean there are numerous issues like this that if this meeting even takes place, when it takes place, its got many major obstacles to overcome before anything productive might come of it.

DS: And Dahr what about the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Could he play a role as he did during earlier years of the U.S. occupation when he tried to wage peace by bringing groups together to meet?

DJ: He has not, he has been a background figure. We haven’t been hearing his name at all in Baghdad and I think basically he hasn’t really had to do anything because for the most part if we still look at the overall situation the Shia have the majority in the government, a majority of the country now geographically and politically and population wise is now either directly or indirectly under the control of Iran and they have accomplished all of this without even having to fire a shot. I think its been done by making very smooth and politically savvy realpolitik moves behind the scenes often times. And they have been doing that from the very beginning and the thing that we have talked about in the past too Dori is that Iran was playing chess from the start and the U.S. at best was playing checkers.

So we have the U.S. come in, invade the country illegally, destroy its reputation, destroy the military, tank the economy, kill 4500 American troops, spend almost a trillion dollars just in overt hard costs, not even looking down the future at other costs. So many studies have been done are calling this a three trillion dollar war, etc. To go through all of that and then withdraw humiliated when you can’t get diplomatic immunity for your troops that remain in country, and leave without the oil companies having their total access to oil that they had wanted, and basically just taking what you can get because your empire is crumbling--meanwhile Iran has garnered so much control and hegemony over so much of Iraq at your expense--that’s basically what’s happened here and it’s been a pretty remarkable thing to witness. I mean if you go around Baghdad now it’s really amazing. The Shia flag, we’re coming up on Ashura, that’s Shiite holy time, and the Imam Hussein flags are flying everywhere. They’re at the airport, everywhere you go, every government building, on government vehicles, half of them driving around in the streets are flying flags. The statement is clear. The Shia are in control here.

DS: And the U.S. arriving in Baghdad with a de-baathification plan in hand, just talk about the consequences though to Iraq overall as you return after some time away from the country.

DJ: Well the most important statistic as we’ve talked about so many times Dori is how many Iraqis have paid for this disaster with their lives. I always stick with the baseline being the Lancet Report that came out in 2006 at 655,000 deaths. That’s now grossly out of date, even though it’s the only scientific study, it’s grossly out of date. So now we have the OMB study out of London, which pegs it at 1.1 million. And then we have Just Foreign Policy that tries to keep a running tab and they are up to I think 1.4 million deaths now, and that’s not even talking about wounded, that’s just people who have died directly or indirectly as a result of the occupation.

So those are the figures we need to talk about. Anything lower than the Lancet is not a viable figure and is statistically unsound, and we have to remember the only scientific study that’s been done, there have been two, and they have both been done by the Lancet. The 2004 study that came out that was 98,000, and then the 2006 study that pegs it at 655,000.

So that is what we are talking about as far as what it has cost the Iraqi people and that’s just mind boggling. I mean 1 million people out of a country of (illegible) one out of 27 people have been killed is what we are talking about. Secondary to that you know we’ve talked about people displaced from their homes, to this day we have at least a million people internally displaced from their homes, at least a million people remain externally displaced from their homes in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, and then go down the laundry list of countries from those top three. And then the infrastructure destruction that I’ve talked about, lack of water, lack of electricity, lack of jobs, lack of security; it’s a hard story to report because I feel like I’m saying the same things to you now that I said in our very first interview back in 2003 Dori except I just keep adjusting the figures upward. And that’s what the story is in Iraq. It really is still that bad here. People are not making a living. It’s an extremely difficult existence.

Just to give you an idea, I was over in Sadr City two days before the bombings happened yesterday and I know that, I went right by that place where the motorcycle bombs happened where those day laborers gather to have some tea and then they get on the bus when they find some work. Then they go do their day’s work and they earn a little bit of pay to hopefully feed their family for one more day. And that’s how about half the people in that entire area live. And that’s half the population of Baghdad, between 3 and 3.5 million people. So those people were out there waiting to get one day’s work, and then they’re blown up, so what about those families? Think about this. And I was just over there talking with these people at the market, you know I talked to a woman selling fruit, she is the only person in her family with a job. They didn’t eat dinner last night, that’s how most people living here are trying to eek out an existence. It really truly is that bad. The Americans have gone and now we are in total political turmoil and that’s the reality on the ground in Iraq today.

DS: Well and we were talking about Fallujah, which I know you were there several times during sieges and if you use that too as a barometer of how people are doing, what is the story out of Fallujah today?

DJ: I published a piece a couple days ago about the overall situation in Fallujah about how we are looking at a place the consensus there is that there is between 70% and 80% unemployment. The city, big parts of it still look like it was just bombed. There is still basically no infrastructure, maybe one to four hours of electricity per day in the average house. Clean drinking water, forget about it, working functional sewage, forget about it, security forget about it, there are attacks daily in the city. And people are angry, they are glad the Americans are gone, but they are bitter and there has of course been very little compensation in the wake of the sieges. Most people didn’t get compensation for destroyed houses or livelihoods or anything like that. Keeping in mind 6,000 businesses were destroyed during the second siege alone, so think about that.

On top of that, I think one of the more horrifying situations and I had a story just published on this today is the absolutely catastrophic levels of birth defects and abnormalities in Fallujah newborns. I spoke with Dr Samira Alani, she is a pediatric specialist at the main hospital there, at Fallujah General Hospital, and she has been there since 1997. The Ministry of Health out of Baghdad won’t take up responsibility of cataloging these defects and this is a political statement in itself. This tells you who is running government and who cares about Fallujah and who doesn’t right? So Maliki hates Fallujah, so there you have it.

Dr. Alani has taken it upon herself to start logging the number of birth defect cases that she has come across. And she started doing this in October of 2009 and just her alone since 2009 she has logged 699 cases of birth defects. When she tallies that out she is looking at just over a 14% rate of people having babies, are having babies with birth defects. By comparison she was in Japan a couple of months ago and she met with Japanese doctors who have done long term studies of radiation and cancers and birth defects, in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And over there at the peak they had 1% to 2% rates of birth defects. In Fallujah it’s over 14%, between 14% and 15%.

So that gives you an idea of how much radiation, and how much toxic chemical poisoning there is in Fallujah. This is definitely one of the harder stories I’ve had to write in a long time. I saw many of these kids, many of these babies with my own eyes, most of the really horrific defects, they die within, either they are dead when they are born or they die within 20 to 30 minutes. So Dr. Alani showed me pictures and gave me a flash drive with way more than I wanted to look at but we were able to put a couple up on the web site of not the worst cases but bad enough so that people get an idea. We’re talking about abnormalities that are something out of a horror movie. People are now afraid to have babies in Fallujah. It’s a crisis situation. What do people do?

It was hard to go to Fallujah also because I’ve seen that town, I was in there long before the first siege ever took place, I’ve seen it go from being a functional, vibrant city, one with a lot of pride, known as the ‘City of Mosques’ to one that’s been largely destroyed. You go in there now and there is no economy and people don’t know what they are going to do, and look if people are going to stop having kids, how long does it take for the city to go away? Maybe that’s what we are in the process of witnessing happen, where there is going to be a massive demographic shift, longer term.

Ironically a different thing that’s happening at the same time is that because of the sectarian fears rising in Baghdad, once again, people who live in mixed Shia and Sunni neighborhoods, a lot of the Sunnis are leaving and they are going to places where they know its safe for Sunnis and one of those places is Fallujah. So Fallujah right now actually is full of people because so many people from Baghdad have gone up there and running for their lives they go up there and just work as day laborers because they feel like its safer for them to live in Fallujah than it is to live in Baghdad.

DS: Dahr Jamail thanks so much for joining us.

DJ: Thanks again Dori its always a pleasure to be with you.

Award winning investigative journalist Dahr Jamail is author of Beyond the Green Zone, and The Will to Resist. He has been covering Iraq off and on 2003 and we reached him in Baghdad where he is Al Jazeera’s Correspondent there. You can find his work at Al Jazeera English and Inter Press Service, Truth out, The Nation, The Sunday Herald in Scotland, the Guardian, Foreign Policy in Focus, Le Monde Diplomatique, and the Independent, as well as other publications or go to his web site,

For Talk Nation Radio I’m Dori Smith, the program is produced in Storrs CT and syndicated with Pacifica Network. is our web site, our music is by Fritz Heede.

News Links:

Wave of bombings leaves scores dead in Iraq By Dahr Jamail | Al Jazeera English | Published: January 5, 2012
At least 70 killed and more than 100 wounded in the latest attacks in mainly Shia areas across the country.

Fallujah babies: Under a new kind of siege By Dahr Jamail | Al Jazeera English | Published: January 6, 2012
Doctors and residents blame US weapons for catastrophic levels of birth defects in Fallujah’s newborns.

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